Showtime! ‘Road To OR’ Tours Outdoor Retailer Winter Market

A look at the future of gear is had at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, a massive annual trade show in Salt Lake City and the final stop on our weeklong ‘Road To OR’ tour.

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We’d driven 1,200 miles, explored back roads and time-warp cafes, climbed a Colorado 14er, and skied powder in the trees of the Wasatch Mountains.

But after days on the move the “Road To OR” comes to an end in Utah, where the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show is held inside the sprawling Salt Palace convention center in Salt Lake City.

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The final destination, the Outdoor Retailer trade show (the “OR Show”), was the beginning of another adventure.

Within the vast halls of a downtown convention center the world’s top outdoors brands gather twice a year to reveal new products and designs never before seen.

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The GearJunkie staff converged at the OR Show, including our Winnebago crew, who took the northern track on the Minnesota-to-Utah route, as well as a second squad of editors and gear testers from GJ who dipped south to hike sand dunes and explore desert arches before steering north to Salt Lake.

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Zach Doleac and Lauren Steele, Columbia Sportswear’s ‘Directors Of Toughness’ at OR

Filmmaker Joshua Van Patter and two Columbia Sportswear employees — Zach Doleac and Lauren Steele, the company’s “Directors Of Toughness” — came along for the ride.

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The resulting road trip, including a collective week of adventures across a major swath of America, would be documented in articles, photos, social media, and via a video to be produced by the month’s end.

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But first we would need to complete the challenge and adventure that is the Outdoor Retailer show.

For a decade, I have attended the twice-annual event, kicking proverbial tires, arranging product tests, and looking for scoops on to-be-released outdoors gear. It’s cumulated in recent years with GearJunkie’s “Best In Show” awards, which recognize innovation and forward-thinking design.

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Our mission this time again was to find the best new gear among thousands of brands on display. From ski goggles to backpacks — not to mention ice-gripping soles and pod-forts you hang from trees — the OR Show offers a look at the future of gear.

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We tested hammocks, zipped up in sleeping bags, downloaded apps made for the outdoors, and watched athletes race on elevated treadmills.

Quick presentations on new gear and new technologies were given by designers who’d labored all year. Guides and athletes offered testimonials on new energy food, harrowing climbs, or avalanche airbags that saved their lives.

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Our editors scrawled notes in search of candidates for “Best In Show.” At the Columbia Sportswear booth, where Zach Doleac and Lauren Steele would post up, a virtual rainstorm was sequestered inside a closet-size space. “They like to make me stand in the rain,” Doleac said.

He zipped up in shell gear and climbed inside. A dribble and then solid “rain” began to fall, and for posterity he stood and smiled for the crowds.

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Nights included parties and dinners, foggy roaming around downtown streets, and run-ins with athletes who frequent the show.

“I had dinner with Conrad Anker,” read the simple Facebook post of one GearJunkie editor after day two at OR.

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Climber Conrad Anker (right) and GearJunkie assistant editor Jake Ferguson

In the end, the editors nominated a dozen products for the “Best In Show” awards. (See the full “Best In Show” article here.) We made connections and packed gear to take home and test, the Salt Lake City halls a mecca for arranging the reviews that form a backbone of the site.

From new gear to late-night parties — not to mention a ski day, a major mountain climb, and thousands of miles motored out on American roads — our trip was a success and a welcomed break from real life out there on the “Road To OR.”

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Photo Gallery: ‘Road To OR’ At Outdoor Retailer Winter Market

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Stephen Regenold is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for nearly two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of four small kids, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.

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